Sunday, May 9, 2010

Earthweek 2010

It’s been a wonderful delight for me to witness Earthday expand into a full week of social and environmental activities in communities around the world. This year marked the fortieth birthday of this event. I didn’t realize this fact until I heard a radio report this year and then a huge smile crossed my face. In about six weeks I’ll also be celebrating my fortieth birthday and I just thought that it was interesting that Earthday was born in the same year as my birth. My wife keeps laughing at me when she tells me, “You’re as old as the Earth!”

This is one of many large displays that you could find around London during Earthweek, this year and as you can see there were a total of nine days of activities for families to participate in. Hmmm… if this growth continues into the future we may see Earthweek evolve into Earthmonth and then… well you know – Everyday Is Earthday!!!

I decided to participate in the tree-planting event in Watson Park. They held a similar event here, last year, and this year they were continuing with even more trees! The sign said ‘Welcome’ and so I decided to comply with this request.

After just a few steps into the park I noticed a lot of activity as others were busy digging holes and planting trees and bushes that are native to this region of Southern Ontario.

Other folks stopped to watch, as well, and soon we found ourselves venturing into the part of the park that was set up with displays and other wonderful things.

There were clowns on stilt-legs and magicians having fun interacting with all the young children who had brought their parents out for this afternoon.

I found myself walking a bit too close to the forest’s edge and suddenly I was surprised when this friendly tiger jumped out from behind a tree!!!

A little further on, I saw a large gathering of children surrounding a jolly ol’ face and then I realized that it was none other that London’s own Bill Paul – Laff Guard master!

There was an army of children out on this day, sharing smiles and laughs with the world. This little girl had brought her bunny with her to share in all the excitement. If you look closely at her sweater you’ll notice that it is artfully decorated with many colourful peace-flowers!!

Beyond all of this excitement a quieter atmosphere calmed the air. I could see many children gathered in a circle, very occupied with looking at something. I went in for a closer look.

I asked the caretakers of these amazing winged creatures what species they were… and he told me… and now I can’t remember… but that’s not so important. What is important is all the joy that all these children experienced by being able to look at and touch one of Nature’s true wonders! Gorgeous.

A little bit further on there was a second tree planting station, crowded with many people learning about how to plant and care for trees.

I really enjoy being creative with my photo compositions… even if I have to do a little crawling around on my hands and knees to find the perfect shot. Foreground composition is as important to me as the composition of my main subject matter. It took me a few moments to get the shovels that are on the ground placed perfectly so that their shaft lines lead the viewers eyes into the photograph. Can you see the slight shift of the horizon line, in the distance? Did you notice that the one shovel is perfectly parallel with the hospital’s smokestack in the distance? Do you see the subtle composition of the lady’s hand, or the slight angle of the shovel being dug into the ground?

Photography is enjoyable for me for all of these reasoned thought patterns. Just one second before and one second after I pressed the shutter button all of these elements were in different alignments. A photographer has to be patient as he/she is making many mental calculations until that one instance when all things align with harmony.

Balance is important in image composition, as well. Wouldn’t this picture be extremely boring if I had just focused on this father and son, putting them right in the middle of the photo? I hate, hate, hate – well that is a little extreme – when people take photos and the subject is smack dab in the middle of the picture… how droll and uninspired. I am guilty of this from time to time, when I'm taking a picture meant to show something in particular or trying to explain something - these times I am taking pictures not capturing a photographic image - two different things. It took me almost a minute before I pressed my shutter button to take this photo. I moved around a bit, trying to find the perfect balance between the tree planters in the foreground and the other activities happening at the back of the van in the background. Even the placement of the asphalt bikepath as it splits the composition with an interesting angle was consciously calculated into the image that I wanted to capture.

You can use horizon lines, bikepaths, flagpoles, etc to help create interesting photo compositions, but it gets a little more challenging when you focus your camera towards the ground, as these elements are no longer available. Balance was a main composition factor in this seemingly boring photo. Notice how the large figure in the foreground is balanced by the three smaller figures in the background. Can you see how both the planted tree and the shovel in the background are on slight angles, but parallel with each other? Do you see how the little boy and his mother are both lifting their feet at the same time with the same angles? By manipulating all of these angles and getting rid of any distant horizon line I’ve created a bit of an optical illusion. Take a second look and tell me if you can see that it looks like the mother and child are almost falling up a hill… even tho’ in reality the land is perfectly flat and level. Can you see it? Or am I just a little crazy!!!!

Again, never put the subject matter in the middle of your photo.

Think about foreground and background and remember to maintain balance. Use lines and horizons to divide a composition in interesting ways… and try to stay away from a ½ - ½ split. This photo uses the simple ‘1/3 on top with 2/3 on bottom’ split rule, using the bikepath as the interesting divide. Think about this when you are taking photos of a sunset – never compose a photo with ½ sky, ½ land or you’ll hear me yawning!!!

In most of these photos you’ll notice that most of the trees being planted are about four feet high and deciduous – having leaves. When I went to ask for my tree to plant the volunteer went to the back of the truck, paused, looked back at me and then reached into a smaller container to select a different tree for me. I thought that this was curious, but I didn’t really care – I just wanted to plant a tree.

She told me that my tree was called a Tamarack and this brought a smile to my face. My first cat was named Tamarack and when Joanne and I were living in British Columbia we witnessed a delightful display of vibrant orange colours in the autumn as the Tamaracks dotted the mountainsides. One of my favourite pine trees.

This one is so small you can barely see it – just ten inches high!

It took me all of about two minutes to plant my tree and then that was it. I stood looking at it and I felt that it might get lost or trampled underfoot so I placed a small ring of wood chips around it. Most of the other planted trees received a few buckets of wood chips, but if I did that my tree would have been completely buried! Instead of getting my own bucket of wood chips I visited all of the other planted trees, surrounding me, and stole one handful of chips from each tree. It’s not that I was being lazy and it’s not that I wanted to steal… what I wanted to do was ask all of these large trees to protect my tree until it was strong enough to stand on its own. I would stand in front of a tree and whisper my request to it. If the tree answered ‘Yes, I will protect your tree, Jim!’ then I would thank it before I took my handful of wood chips.

I have grown to believe that it is important to talk to Nature and to listen to her replies. I talk to trees, flowers, bugs, birds, dogs and clouds all the time. While I’m driving my elementary school students in the mornings I’ll often ask the students to wave to a tree as I ask the tree how it’s day is going. Then I’ll use a silly voice to answer, “OH! Mr. Jim, I am super fantastic today… and how are you?” Then I’ll act really surprised and say, “Wow! Did you hear that? That tree spoke to me!!!” The children all laugh and I’ll hear them say, “No… that was you Mr. Jim… you can’t fool us… trees can’t talk!!!” I usually reply by telling them that all things in Nature – trees, clouds, grass… even sunlight can talk to you. You just have to be listening properly to hear what they are saying is all!

So… my tree was planted and I had received many promises from other trees that my little Tamarack will be protected during its youth. I smiled! My time hear had been enjoyable but I had to continue on to my next adventure. Yes… I was soon to meet up with some friends to do a little Earthday Guerrilla Gardening. But that’s my next story…


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